Claudiu Komartin was born in Romania in 1983 and has published three books of poetry including Domestic Circus (2005), which was awarded the Romanian Academy Poetry Prize. The long sequence ‘The Poems With Pop’ was written in his early twenties and is a poem in fifteen sections, ten of which are published here. It’s a recasting of a particular tradition of Romanian poetry (Tudor Arghezi, Gellu Naum, Ion Caraion, Mircea Ivanescu and Ion Mureşan are probably poetic ‘forefathers’), but is also very much his own vision of harsh life seen through the eyes of a child and the language of an engaged poet. It is a startling and stunning poem, raw, harsh, written in a burst of four nights, pinioned on venom and compassion, worked through sarcasm and hope, and forging a language taken from the stripped necessities of human life. If it was dug out of the last decade of Ceauşescu’s Romania – and it is a deeply Romanian poem – it is equally a vivid response to the realities of any contemporary post-industrial society.
Komartin has taken part in poetry festivals and gatherings throughout Europe and as far afield as South Korea (though what’s ‘far afield’ these days but in the poet’s mind and heart), as a critic and translator as well as a poet. Most recently he read at ‘Poet In The City’ in London in May 2011 to much acclaim. He is also co-founder and editor-in-chief of the poetry quarterly Poeisis International published in Satu Mare as a multi-lingual anthology of poetry and criticism. I first met Claudiu and read his ‘The Poems With Pop’ at a weeklong workshop for poets in Slovenia in 2007 and was immediately struck by the poem’s aching power and authenticity, its synthesis of cultural and social stress and the validity of its reactions to contemporary life. The translation by Rareş Moldovan is very finely attuned to the language, harshness and love of the poem, just a very few editorial adjustments have been made to further tighten it into colloquial usage.
Stephen Watts (May 2011)
The Poems With Pop
a tale for Ruslan
Translated from the Romanian by Rareş Moldovan
It’s four in the morning and pop can’t stop coughing.
We’ve been listening for hours as he squirms,
gagging for extra mouthfuls of air.
We’re fed up, though not as you’d think,
but no one says a word.
It’s four in the morning and pop won’t let anybody sleep –
his body’s a coffin of flesh
in which the worms are already doing their long slow work.
Just that, miss:
pop’s just a corpse of decomposing cells,
a leather sack in which
little by little
affliction makes its way
and the demon digs ever deeper, from the head to the chest
from the chest to the gut
until you hear a Paleozoic bone crack.
His sons would yell at him just to shut up or somehow to die,
would drive a stake through his big rotted heart,
but pop still brings food to the table so it’d be a waste.
Even though we know he’s a sack full of puss and shit.
But then, really, mum would have to go &
work in Spain, like her cousin Masha.
* * *
Pop sits on the edge of the bed, he’s almost purple
and he bawls at us to leave him alone. I cup his head in my hands
and a bird flutters around the room looking for a way out.
Pop hits me with his rough, hairy hand
and falls back on the bed moaning again: oh, all of you, watching
through a dirty window, and giggling, if you only knew …
The rot in his chest has spread to his head.
Nothing, nothing can save him now.
I watch him in jest
watching me and seeing himself –
he’d give anything to have some life left
to crack my skull with his big heavy fist.
Pop’s ill, in vain does mum bring him the washbasin.
His guts gurgle and sigh in their sticky-humid tongue :
pop’s a tub in which someone blows air through a plastic
hose at five in the morning.
* * *
Pop knows nothing of nihilism
pop hasn’t read Nietzsche or Gottfried Benn
his chainsaw glints in the darkness
tears run down mum’s pale cheek
drops of blood on the bathroom linoleum.
Pop knows nothing of seduction
pop hasn’t read Kierkegaard
when I was a kid
his callousness was the only thing we could be sure of
back then women would speak of him hornily
as they queued to buy meat
today his loud coughs repel the whole building
His green phlegm, sis, is the damned
river in which we drown our youth.
* * *
I too was in Sîngerei
as trusted friend to a dead man
though we’d been together in school
I’d hardly hung around with Vitalie, say ten times,
but someone had to do it
someone had to care for the body of this young man
such a nice young man
and dumb as a post
where Vitalie’d been beaten to death
the road is bumpy
you gotta take care, they told me,
or his guts’ll spill all over the place
his skin fly off the side of the road, into a field
which the doctors had hurriedly sewn together as a putrid cloth
with a couple of strings just
right for a sack of meat
that weighed 88 kilos
Vitalie, Vitalie, your soul had flown far away
little did you care I held your congested liver and your heart
covered by several thick layers of fat
close to my chest
like a couple of bloody clods
so that you could go home
where your old mother waited
Vitalie, Vitalie, what did you care
that your heart slowly cooled
and I became a man, something
just as raw
Oleg knew what he was talking about when he told me
to leave your stinking corpse
by the side of the road.
Vitalie, Vitalie, you got out easy from this mess, you poor bastard.
* * *
Pop raided the pigsty, stumbling all over the place
and cursing God. Nothing enrages him
more than the feebleness of his arms
which once carved up 946 pigs and a few huge bulls
each as heavy as a truck.
Some winter nights in his old parents’s sty in Chircani
pop goes at the swine full of hatred
heaving from his coughs
and his rough words reek of dialysis
Thick snot and drool mixed with puke
trickle down his chin
and still he won’t leave the boars alone.
This is how we found him one night: lying in the mud
among the greedy, blooded snouts.
He’d passed out and dropped the knife,
overcome with the smell and the ceaseless stir of bodies –
and the starving animals
did not go easy on him.
Until I managed to pick him up they’d gobbled an ear.
* * *
Who writhes harder than you?
who in the hour of his death
is blinder, prouder, as insane?
Ruin works in your bones and there’s not a soul in the world
can help you.
When the coughing eases, you belch and fart with relish, maybe
you think this way your body can free itself of sickness and
move away from death.
Who loves himself more than you’ve loved yourself
your whole life through, pop ?
It’s our distress keeps you alive.
When you were nowhere to be found, I loved you. For six days
they looked for you around F
alesti, Glinceni and Egorovca
until they found you somewhere in a ditch.
On the seventh, when they brought you back, you were almost awake.
You swore at us and beat up Olga, who’d turned four in your absence –
all my love crumbled and went down the drain.
You feel by now how lively are the larvae of death dancing in your lungs
but still I catch you smoking in your quieter moments
and the bitter smell of crust, puss and tar
that your flesh forever exudes
is for me the scent of sadness
and slow decay.
* * *
Waiting for your end, we resemble
a family of mice
in a house engulfed in flames.
When we don’t pray or weep, we pound the plaster walls
maddened by impatience and horror.
Know this, though: when death comes and sniffs your body
we drive it away banging the pots, the skillets, the stove.
You rejected our eager love, it displeased you
our love and our fanaticism like that of terrorists in black.
You were a cruel and jealous swine herder, a gardener of sorrow.
Know this, though: when death comes and sniffs your body,
we drive it away banging the washbasin, banging into each other,
destroying ourselves with ever more precision and certainty.
* * *
Why would you care for humility, you ask yourself, you who
were always so brutal and strong?
You kicked the priest out when we called him
thinking you wanted to make peace with it all,
and you spat in his face.
The grass will grow freely on your grave,
no one will pluck the weeds, whether you now humble yourself or not.
Your belongings will be given away or burned
and we’ll be kept busy for a long time erasing
any trace of your passage through life. We truly love you,
it matters not that you don’t regret a thing
and couldn’t care less for
the comfort I wish to bring to you
by speaking to you of things learned from books.
Death will surely lay you in a ridiculous posture.
Soon you’ll be stiff, and your wide-open mouth
will become a shelter for flies.
Serioja the innkeeper will miss a customer –
or perhaps with time I’ll take your place:
pop, someone has to do that, too.
* * *
One of us will smother you with a pillow, if
you’re lucky. Your pain is a wall
against which we’ll bang our skulls
until there’s nothing left to humble or destroy.
I want to know if after your last breath
the world will be safer, more comforting. I want to know
who will wring the necks of kittens when you’re dead.
What will we do without you, papasha?
Who’ll fix the furniture, the home fixtures (left over
from our grandparents), these pipes
that leak every other day?
I sometimes look at my thin arms and my sunken chest,
my pallid skin and the dark eyes popping out of their sockets, and then
I watch Olguţa
sewing her socks and vest in the darkness
and I tell myself
all is lost.
If you’re lucky, one of us will go mad
and hack you to pieces with a long slender blade one night.
* * *
Our older brother Oleg
says pop’s a snake
Oleg left home seven years ago
and today tells me on the phone to stay away from the old man
I talk to him in secret and whine down the line
but Oleg says to me I’m a man and have to pull through
I promise I’ll try for a while longer
to survive in this house
although I’m buried in my family history
and pop’s afflictions
in the tears of my mother and sister
as hard as I can to pull through
Oleg will come back
with his Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo
3.7 liter V6
Four-wheel brake traction control (4×4 only)
High-performance halogen headlamps
First-class interior space
Independent front/multi-link rear suspension
Electronic Stability Program
and save us all.